The Puffin path to modern children's literature
Images reproduced with permission of Quentin Blake, the Alec Guinness estate, the Kaye Webb estate,
and Penguin Books Ltd. These are links to larger images and more information.
The Kaye Webb collection was the first major purchase by Seven Stories. The collection, which includes books comprising Kaye Webb's working library as well as her extensive personal archive, was auctioned at Sothebys in 1997, and purchased with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries. This purchase ensured that the entire collection stayed together and remained in the UK.
Kaye Webb (1914-1996) was editor of Puffin Books from 1961-1979 and had a formative influence on the imprint. Building on the reputation for quality established by her predecessor Eleanor Graham, Puffin's first editor, she expanded the parameters of children's paperback publishing and did much to raise the profile not only of Puffin, but of children's literature as a whole. The Seven Stories archive shows wide-ranging evidence of Webb's editorial ethos, which combined a deep-seated desire to offer all children access to high-quality literature with a keen understanding of how to promote and sell books.
The Kaye Webb collection is extensive, comprising much personal correspondence, material relating to her work as a journalist and editor, and many other articles and speeches relating to children's literature and to her own working life. Although best known as editor of Puffin, Webb's early career was also significant. Her experience as a journalist - most notably as assistant editor for the popular magazine 'Lilliput' and then as editor of the children's magazine 'Young Elizabethan' - is well documented within the archive. This material offers a fascinating insight into the experiences which informed her later work at Puffin, and into her position as a professional woman at a time when this was comparatively unusual.
Kaye Webb's family background and her personal relationships are extensively documented through the large collection of correspondence. This includes letters from prominent public figures such as James Mason, Alec Guinness, and Laurie Lee, along with extensive correspondence with authors, illustrators and other figures from the world of children's literature, including Walter de la Mare, Joan Aiken, and Iona and Peter Opie. The mingling of the personal and professional in these letters sheds a revealing light on Webb's work at Puffin, demonstrating how fundamental her work was to her life as a whole.
Key to Kaye Webb's contribution to children's literature during the period was the Puffin Club, founded by Webb as a means of creating a reading community for children. The lively, appealing format of the Puffin Club and its accompanying magazine, the Puffin Post, are well-documented in the archive, which includes examples of original artwork created for the Club by artist Jill McDonald. Kaye Webb's notes on the Club, such as those on the recurring Puffin Post character 'Odway', demonstrate her desire to inspire creativity and intellectual curiosity in her child reader. Correspondence from child members of the Club - 'Puffineers' - and from critics, writers and librarians are testimony to the affection and excitement the Club inspired.
The Kaye Webb collection is a central part of Seven Stories' holdings, notable not only for the significance of Kaye Webb herself to the development of British children's publishing, but also because of the context it provides for other collections in the archive. Authors such as Peter Dickinson, Joan Aiken and Ursula Moray Williams were all published by Kaye Webb at Puffin, while Faith Jaques, Diana Stanley, and Antony Maitland were among the many distinguished artists to provide illustrations for Puffin books. The collection therefore offers great research potential – one PhD based on research in the Kaye Webb Collection has recently been completed, with a further doctoral project using the archive currently in progress. Valerie Grove also made extensive use of the archive while researching her new biography of Kaye Webb, So Much to Tell.
The archive also provides a wealth of material for use in Seven Stories' exhibitions, schools programming and special projects. Most recently, the archive has formed the inspiration for a new exhibition which will be opening at Seven Stories in Newcastle upon Tyne on 15 July 2010. This new exhibition, entitled Nuffin' Like a Puffin, marks the 70th birthday of Puffin Books by highlighting the work of Kaye Webb in establishing and developing the Puffin 'brand', as well as celebrating some of the great children's titles published by Puffin Books over the last 70 years. Titles featured will include well-loved classics such as Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, The Borrowers by Mary Norton and Stig of the Dump by Clive King, as well as contemporary best-sellers such as Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and Lucky Star by Cathy Cassidy.
Dr Lucy Pearson and Kate Wright have both undertaken research based on the Kaye Webb archive as part of doctoral projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council through the Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme. The overall title of the collaborative project, between Seven Stories and the Children's Literature Unit at Newcastle University, is 'The Making of Modern Children's Literature'.
Related collection descriptions
- Kaye Webb Collection: the collection covers her career as journalist, magazine editor, editor at Puffin, and later as a literary agent.
- Ursula Moray Williams (1911-2006): children's writer, author of Gobbolino, the Witch's Cat, a best-seller published by Puffin Books
- Edward Ardizzone (1900-1979): the collection of the former Children's Book Editor at the Bodley Head, Judy Taylor Hough, includes letters from the illustrator to Kaye Webb
- Joan Aiken (1924-2004): novelist perhaps best known for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
- Peter Dickinson (born 1927): children's writer and illustrator
- Diana Stanley (born 1909): illustrator; this collection includes original artwork for 'The Borrowers' series by Mary Norton
- Anthony Maitland (born 1932): illustrator; the collection includes original artwork for Mrs Cockle's Cat by Philippa Pearce, for which Maitland won the Kate Greenaway medal in 1961
- Penguin Collection: this collection at the University of Bristol contains a wide variety of materials on the establishment of Penguin Books, Ltd. and Allen Lane.
- Allen Lane (1902-1970): papers on Allen Lane, founder of Penguin Books, compiled by Jack Morpurgo in preparation for his biography of Lane
Links are provided to records on Copac for these items. The Copac library catalogue gives free access to the merged online catalogues of major University, Specialist, and National Libraries in the UK and Ireland, including the British Library. For more information about accessing items see the FAQs on the Copac website.
- Lucy Pearson The Making of Modern Children's Literature: Quality and Ideology in Britain's Children's Publishing of the 1960s and 1970s (2010): doctoral thesis, University of Newcastle upon Tyne Records on Copac
- Phil Baines Puffin by Design: a celebration 1940-2010 (2010) Records on Copac
- Sally Gritten The Story of Puffin Books (1990) Records on Copac
- Valerie Grove So Much to Tell (2010): the recently published biography of Kaye Webb Records on Copac
- Jack Morpurgo Allen Lane: King Penguin (1979) Records on Copac
- Kimberly Reynolds and Nicholas Tucker, editors Children's Book Publishing in Britain since 1945 (1998) Records on Copac
- The Journal of Children's Literature Studies Records on Copac
Links are also provided here to records on Zetoc for these items. Zetoc provides access to the British Library's Electronic Table of Contents. Using Zetoc allows you to search the tables of contents of 20,000 current journals and 16,000 conference proceedings published per year. The database covers 1993 to date. For more information about accessing items see the FAQs on the Zetoc website..
- Kaye Webb, 1914-1996 by M. Crouch, Junior Bookshelf (1996) vol. 60, no. 2, page 54
- Showing a New World in 1942: The Gentle Modernity of Puffin Picture Books by P. Stiff, Design Issues (2007) vol. 23, no. 4, pages 22-38.
- The Nuffin' Like a Puffin exhibition at Seven Stories, Newcastle upon Tyne, opens on July 15th, 2010, and will include a section on Kaye Webb and her influence on Puffin Books
- Children's Literature Unit: teaches at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and staff conduct research into children's books and culture, both historical and contemporary (University of Newcastle)
- Happy Birthday Puffin! - Celebrating 70 spectacular years of Puffin (Penguin Books website)
- Puffin Book Club: founded by Kaye Webb in the 1960s as The Puffin Club
- The Story of Puffin: all about the histoy of Puffin Books (Puffin Books website)
- Wilhelm Busch Museum: the museum in Hanover, Germany, holds the archive of the cartoonist Ronald Searle (born 1920), who was Kaye Webb's third husband [website text in German]
- National Centre for Research in Children's Literature: Roehampton University
- The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards: awarded by children's librarians for outstanding books and book illustration for children and young people